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DIGGING DEEPER: Minnesota lawmakers work to reform sexual assault laws

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Minnesota is one step closer to tightening its laws involving sexual assault crimes.

A few weeks ago, a opinion from the Minnesota Supreme Court caused waves. In State vs. Khalil, the conviction of a man for third degree criminal sexual conduct was overturned. Because of the way the state law is written, the woman was deemed not "mentality incapacitated" because she drank by choice.

"As that decision came down, the world lit up," Republican Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester said.

The case caused outrage across the country and prompted a call to action louder than ever before.

"[The court decision] affirming the need for this legislation to pass," Sen. Senjem said.

As it turns out -- an effort to change the language in the law was in the works. It started with a task force in 2019; which was created by the late Sen. Jerry Relph.

"They identified the gaps. The issues and this was certainly one of them," Senjem said.

"This work included survivors advocates, prosecutors and other experts from across the state," Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault Law and Policy Director Lindsay Brice said in a Senate Committee hearing Wednesday night.

But the battle for justice goes far beyond the last two years. At Wednesday's committee hearing, victims and survivors shared their stories.

"I found out the even though my rapist's DNA was found inside me... they would not be able to criminals prosecute because I was not found completely helpless," Anne Toohey said.

"But the man that raped me, was not charged," Katie Kelly said.

"That night, when I was very intoxicated, I was raped," Brenna Galvin said. "...I screen myself out as an attorney of bringing my case forward, because I looked at the law as it currently stands."

Cases were dismissed because victims were not "mentally incapacitated" after voluntarily drinking alcohol.

"Survivors who chose to engage with the criminal justice system deserve a system that does not perpetuate more harm," Brice said.

The bi-partisan bill proposal was introduced this January, campion bills, HF707 and SF1683, aim to change that. Senjem authored the Senate bill.

In addition to re-defining what it means to be "mentality incapacitated," the bill corrects and adds language to the law so it better protects victims. It includes changes for children crimes, vulnerable adults and prohibiting sexual extortion.

"I wanted to do it because it was important to Jerry and moreover, it was very, very important to women in Minnesota and men also. None of this is acceptable to any of us," Senjem said.

Senjem believes the bill will be law with in the next month. It goes to the Senate floor next week.

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Beret Leone

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